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A MOMENT WITH MIKE: Operation R/C Rebuild - The Cost of Tires

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By Mike Garrison

A Moment with Mike is a weekly opinion column where LiveRC’s Mike Garrison gives his take on hot-button issues, general topics, and conversations within the RC industry. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of LiveRC.

Last week’s edition of A Moment With Mike was aimed at creating a discussion among racers, track owners, and companies within the industry to breath new life into areas of R/C that have been declining (such as local club racing). The response from racers was overwhelming, and created a discussion and a sea of thoughts, ideas, and opinions much larger than I would have ever expected. With thousands of people interacting there were thousands of different opinions and ideas, however, there are three major categories that majority of them fall into.

Obviously not every idea or comment falls directly into one of these categories as there are some comments, such as that from Victoria Fresh who commented, “Single and ready to mingle? Me too! Visit my page now!” who I was unsure as to which category to include their response…sorry Victoria. 

After hours of sorting comments and opinions, the four major categories that seem to need improvement in R/C are:

  1. Cost of tires.
  2. The amount of time spent at the track vs. the amount of time spent on the track.
  3. Overall cost of getting started and being competitive – primarily in the stock classes.
  4. Number of "big" events and trophy races.

Instead of taking on all three topics at once, I’ve decided to spread this out a bit to give each a fair share of discussion and ideas towards resolving the issues at hand. This week I am focused on the cost of tires concern.

Many people, me included, often assume because we are spending more money on tires that manufacturers have marked up the price of tires tremendously over the years. Tire prices have increased over the years (as almost everything in the world has), but what many people don’t realize is that its not the price per set that is the issue. It is the fact that as racers and manufacturer’s we have pushed the limits so far looking for pure tenths of a second on the race track, we have taken on 2-3 sets of tires per race day when 1-2 sets used to be all we needed for multiple race days to be competitive. 

There are four major factors here that has led to this, in my opinion:

#1 – Tire Compounds. Advanced technology has provided us three times the number of tire compounds for any given situation that we once had. These new compounds have improved the traction and handling on the race track, but often don’t last near as long before wearing out as tires ten years ago that were only offered in soft, medium, and hard compounds. Therefore, more money is spent nowadays on the quality of driving, rather than quantity of driving – in other words tires now allow us to drive better and faster, but often for less amount of overall time before they wear out.

#2 – Tire sauce. I am not necessarily for or against tire sauce, as I have raced with and without it and have seen pros and cons to using, but for this scenario I do believe that tire sauce is a con and has played a large part in the “cost of tires” issue. Whether you believe tire sauce works or not in terms of handling, anytime you apply chemicals to rubber there will be some sort of effect. Softening and breaking down the rubber in a tire may work wonders for traction, but it also shortens the lifespan of your tires tremendously. If there is a tire sauce/additive available on the market that softens your tires, increases traction, and is proven that it does not alter the lifespan of a tire – I have yet to see it, and would be more than happy if someone could introduce me to it. 

#3 – Breaking in Tires. I am fully aware that 9/10 a brand new set of tires straight out of the package is not the “hot ticket” on the race track. For many tracks racers (including myself) find the best results and handling using worn, but not bald, tires. To achieve this racers use sanding paddles, Scotch Brite pads, rags soaked in penetrating lubricant, driving in an open parking lot, and a long list of other methods to “knock off the new” from their new tires. While it may cause the tires to perform better, “breaking in tires” is a polite way of saying “wearing out your tires before you ever get on the track”.

#4 – Track Surfaces. Last, but certainly not least, in the cost of tires is track surfaces. There was a time that it was an oddity to see “sugared tracks” and dirt tracks packed smoother and harder than the carpet on-road track next door, however, it has become the norm today for most 1/10-scale off-road tracks. Not always, but typically the higher-traction a dirt surfaces becomes, the more tire wear is increased – especially if a “dry groove” that is dusted off as opposed to watered is run on a track. Likewise, carpet off-road has become increasingly popular, however, tire wear at most carpet tracks that allow pin style tires is extremely high – some much higher than dirt tracks. 

Now that we have established the four major factors to the cost of tires issue at hand, how do we fix them?

Technology advances, and we can’t turn back time. Outlawing or holding back technological advancements in tire compounds is out of the question. While the new tire compounds of today may not have the lifespan of yesteryear, I believe this is a very small part of the problem in terms of cost of tires. In my opinion, tire manufacturer's are doing their job and using technology in their favor. I can't blame them for bettering their products, and therfore can't blame them and their new compounds entirely for the cost of tires.

Track surfaces would be next in line for me, but still not the largest of the factors attributing to the cost of tires. Track surfaces is a little bit like tire compound technology advancing. No, I don’t believe that the technological advancements in garden hoses, industrial brooms, and shovels over the past few years is the reason for the changes in track surfaces, but rather the sport is evolving, and track surfaces simply have evolved over the years with it. I agree that tire wear and tire choice was far less of an issue when off-road tracks were loose and loamy, but those days are a thing of the past. There is no way to take all major tracks and events and demand they stop prepping the way they have done for the past decade, and revert back to track prepping from the 90’s – convince all tire manufacturers to throw away all of their molds and bring back big knobby tires – and demand car manufacturer’s discontinue mid-motor cars with laydown transmissions to reinstate rear motor buggies instead.

This leaves tire sauce and breaking in tires. This by no means is a new controversy in the world of R/C, but it is a very relevant controversy when it comes to the cost of tires, and is perhaps the most tangible in terms of change. Do I believe that tire sauce and the various methods of breaking in tires is the major cause of increased tire wear and cost of tires? Yes. Do I believe their is quick and easy solution to tire sauce? No.

R/C racing has become so competitive that racers that were once willing to push the limits, now push the limits three times as far. Banning tire sauce at the track may help the issue, but its not as simple as just saying, “No more sauce!” Who and how will it be patrolled on a club race day, let alone major races with hundreds of people? Does the track hire someone as the full-time tire police? If its banned at the track, who’s going to verify that no one is treating their tires prior to showing up at the track? Is there a solid method of tech inspecting tires to ensure that racers haven’t been saucing? If all tracks don’t ban sauce, how do you patrol which tires have been sauced elsewhere, but not sauced at your track? If you suddenly ban sauce, does everyone that races at your track have to buy all-new tires and throw the previously sauced tires away? If you take away any of the health risks that may be involved in tire saucing, is saucing tires for better performance but less lifespan any more of an issue than running motors at their absolute max temps to go faster with the risk of burning it up sooner – no one can stop you from making that choice, can they?

On top of all of that, there are many individuals and companies who have founded their income and livelihood on creating the best working tire sauce and additives on the R/C market - from a moral standpoint, if tire sauce is banned where will they go?

These are all questions that once again I would like to hear YOUR opinions and ideas about.

1.) Do you believe that tire sauce/additives are a direct cause of the increased amount of money spent on tires? If so, what can we do to change that?

2.) What overall ideas (tire sauce or not) do YOU have to cut down tire wear and/or the overall expense of tires to improve local club racing?


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